The Indiana Pacers are pleased they can count on a number of players to make baskets late in games.
That’s a role the Cleveland Cavaliers may still be trying to fill 18 months after the franchise’s superstar skipped town, but they’ve been getting nice production throughout the lineup so far this season.
The host Pacers look to open 3-0 for the first time in four seasons Friday night when they go for a sixth consecutive victory over the Cavaliers.
Indiana gained a wealth of confidence during last season’s tightly contested first-round playoff loss to top-seeded Chicago, as four of the five games were decided by six points or fewer.
But the team also learned it needed more offensive options late in games. The Pacers were outscored by a combined 36 in the fourth quarters by the Bulls, with Danny Granger accounting for 32 of the team’s 109 points.
Granger is still the Pacers’ go-to scorer, and point guard Darren Collison was 18th in the NBA last season with 122 points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The addition of David West, however, has given Indiana a legitimate late threat in the post, while also handing coach Frank Vogel a solid three-man rotation at the power forward and center spots with Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert.
After Toronto rallied to within three points Wednesday, West’s fadeaway 14-footer with 9 seconds remaining helped Indiana hold on for a 90-85 road win.
“We have so many weapons down the stretch,” said Granger, who scored nine of his team-high 21 points in the final five minutes. “We have so many options. I think it’s going to be the mark of us being a good team.”
The Cavs likely have a ways to go before making much noise in the Eastern Conference, but shooting 48.4 percent and having six players average double-figure scoring during a 1-1 start has at least given them some optimism.
Rookie Kyrie Irving, the new face of the franchise after LeBron James left for Miami in 2010, has handed out seven assists in each contest. The No. 1 overall draft pick scored 14 points in Wednesday’s 105-89 victory at Detroit after finishing with six on 2-of-12 shooting in his debut, a 104-96 loss to Toronto on Monday.
“In the last game, I wasn’t enjoying the game,” Irving said. “I think I wanted to be so serious. I wasn’t joking around and there was no smile on my face. It’s just about feeling comfortable out there.”
The Cavaliers’ reserves have outscored the starters 107-94.
“It’s only two games but (the bench players) definitely have cohesiveness about them right now and I think it starts with Ramon Sessions,” coach Byron Scott said. “I think he’s doing a terrific job of leading those guys. He’s probably the guy with the most experience out there.”
Sessions had 15.8 points and 5.3 assists per game as the Cavs lost all four meetings with Indiana in 2010-11. Granger averaged 27.8 points and hit 15 of 29 from 3-point range in those contests.
West scored 57 points and grabbed 18 boards in two games - both wins - against Cleveland last season while with New Orleans.